Latest Department of Justice crime figures show that burglary, drugs and sexual offences have all risen substantially in the Larne area.
Burglaries increased by 21 per cent in the past year; drug offences went up by 25 per cent; and sexual offences by 36 per cent.
However, the new policing commander for Mid and East Antrim, Supt Ryan Henderson, said he was optimistic about a 10 per cent decline in criminal damage, a 15 per cent drop in possession of offensive weapons and increased police activity around drug offences.
Supt Henderson – a former area commander in Larne – urged that “partnership working and a renewed focus on threat, risk and harm” are important following the rise in recorded crime in Larne last year. The crime figures cover the period April, 2014 to April, 2015.
He said it was “a good news story” that detections for drug offences had gone up. “We ran Operation Torus across Northern Ireland earlier this year because we understand the damage that drugs do to communities. The primary drug seized during Operation Torus was cannabis. Indeed, within Larne, we dismantled a significant cannabis factory in Crosshill Road last November.
“I would caution that cannabis is dangerous and recent research has linked the drug with psychotic episodes and poor mental health. Cannabis is illegal and we will continue to enforce the Misuse of Drugs Act in its entirety.”
Mr Henderson added: “New psychoactive substances, or so-called ‘legal highs’ are also a particular problem in the Larne context. These products are not for human consumption and are very dangerous. Police have supported the council in enforcement actions last year in relation to a shop selling ‘legal highs in Larne town centre.”
Addressing the hike in burglaries, Supt Henderson identified a need for “a renewed preventative focus”. He said: “The Reducing Offending Unit (ROU) does great work in Larne by targeting prolific offenders. We know that when it comes to burglary, one offender can often be responsible for a spate of crime. So, the work of the ROU in targeting and managing 23 offenders across Larne and Ballymena is extremely important.
“However, there is a role for members of the public in this area. Around 40 per cent of break-ins are walk-ins and criminals will always take the path of least resistance. I would ask everyone to make a concerted effort to take the simple crime prevention steps that reduce your chances of becoming a victim of crime.”
Sexual offences went up by over a third. Supt Henderson said: “Historic sexual offences may account for some of the 12-incident increase. However, in more general terms, I am pleased that victims are coming forward to report these offences. The work of the PSNI Public Protection Unit in working with victims and monitoring registered sex offenders is often unseen but highly specialised and important.
“Furthermore, the Rowan, a Sexual Assault Referral Centre, offers a range of services and support to anyone who has been sexually abused, assaulted or raped, whether this happened recently or in the past. The service is based in Antrim Area Hospital and is open to those who wish to self-refer directly by calling 0800 389 4424.”
There were 62 more shoplifting offences in Larne than in the previous year. The regional commander commented: “It is difficult to attribute this rise to one particular issue, but it does mirror an overall increase in shoplifting across Northern Ireland. Larne officers have worked with local retailers across the year to improve crime prevention measures. It is important that retailers continue to put these measures in place and take crime prevention seriously.”
Welcoming the 10 per cent drop in criminal damage, Mr Henderson said: “Our officers have maintained a visible presence in Larne across the year to deter criminals and respond to incidents quickly. Criminal damage, even at a low level can adversely affect quality of life, so I am happy that a drop has been recorded in relation to this crime type.”
Larne councillor Andrew Wilson said the annual statistics were “disappointing”, but added he has confident of improvement in the months ahead.
The Ulster Unionist former mayor and district policing partnership chairman said: “After a meeting with Supt Henderson last week, I feel more confident about the future of policing, particularly in Larne, where I had concerns about the level of manpower.
“Ryan Henderson has experience of policing in Larne and has given me assurances that the staffing level is improving.”